Published in Dawn on January 15th, 2017
“There are many horizons that must be visited … and white pages in the scrolls of life to be inscribed…” Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North.
IT was 1991 and I was travelling by road in a small group to Iran, Turkey and Greece. In Maku, a city in a mountain gorge in west Azerbaijan province, 22 kilometres away from the Turkish border, we met two Bangladeshis who were travelling to Turkey onward to Greece “on mules”, they told us.
I was flabbergasted. “We travel by night, lest we are caught,” they shared with us, their fellow South Asians. Once they would reach Greece, they planned to slip away to greener pastures — Germany or France. Later, in a small pension in Istanbul, overlooking the Bosphorus, we were served by a young man from Punjab who told us his tale of woe: his agent, also a Pakistani, had robbed him of his passport and dollars.
Published in Dawn on June 30 2014
“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspective deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” — Italo Calvino
CONCEALED within a leafy neighborhood, crushed between 1,000 to 2,000 square-yard bungalows, in Jamshed Town, Karachi, invisible to the world of comfortable living, exists an enclave of narrow alleys, haphazard and shabbily constructed one or two-room dwellings of the city’s migrant workers. Called Bano Colony, this surreal settlement, with upper storeys jutting out here and there, reminds one of the narrow labyrinthine alleys in Shagai, one of the katchi abadis in Mingora, Swat.
Inhabited exclusively by Pakhtuns, this enclave has two entry points: the east side leads to male-only living; the west end opens to family quarters. On entering the male-only section, for a second you feel you are stepping into the ruins of a demolished structure. Here the rent of one small, windowless room, shared by six (or more) males — minor, young, old — along with a communal kitchen, is Rs6,000 per month.